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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Another super-mugging? NY State Education Department to award $27 no-bid contract to Joel Klein and Rupert Murdoch

From Rachel Monahan of the Daily News comes the startling announcement that the NY State Education Department is about to award a $27 million no-bid contract to Wireless Generation to develop a statewide student data system, and has apparently been granted a waiver by the NY state Comptroller to do so.  

Wireless, which received several no-bid contracts from DOE, is now run by ex-Chancellor Joel Klein and owned by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. 
Why did the state argue for this contract?  On the basis of Wireless’ record in developing ARIS, NYC’s much criticized $80 million data system.
Recently, Lindsey Christ of NY1 in an award-winning three-part series pointed out the glaring deficiencies of ARIS and the far superior data system developed by NYC teachers for relative pennies.  
Last  fall, Gotham Schools did a similar expose;  we featured critical observations from a teacher about the inadequacies of the system back in 2008.
The hi-tech community recognized  it a huge boondoggle and a “super mugging” when the no-bid contract was first announced in 2007.
Already, the state’s intention to grant this contract to Klein et. al. has been criticized by Susan Lerner of Common Cause: "It just smacks of an old-boys club, where large amounts of public money are spent based not on 'is this the best product?'  E.D. Kain  of Forbes writes that the decisionreeks of cronyism.”
In support of their request, SED claims that Wireless has received “national recognition from Arne Duncan.”  Of course, Duncan has also called Joel Klein, who stands to benefit financially from the deal, “a good, good friend of mine.”
The letter also reveals that the Gates Foundation, which pushed data systems and testing as part of "Race to the Top", has also selected Wireless to “build its national Shared Learning Infrastructure,”  in what is likely to prove a generous windfall for Joel Klein and Rupert Murdoch.
The SED letter requesting the waiver claims that Wireless has invested “significant time and resources in end-user research with NYC DOE educators to determine the ideal ways to display information for educators to engage in data-driven instruction…[including] focus groups of educators and administrators.” 
If so, they obviously learned nothing from any of these focus groups, as most teachers report the system is nearly worthless.  The SED letter also claims that parent find ARIS useful, while  I’ve heard mostly complaints that the system contains little more than their children’s test scores and attendance.
SED adds: “Wireless has “developed the vocabulary used throughout NY for student classification and demographic information” and, for example, understands what ‘ELL’ (English Language Learner) means.. Wow! That should be worth a cool million there.
Finally, “New York is well aware of the risks of large-scale technology projects that to [sic] tend to run over budget, behind schedule and be under-whelming when delivered.”  Which is a perfect description of ARIS.
It is surprising that NY State Comptroller Di Napoli would provide this waiver after his 2009 audit, exposing DOE’s abuse of the no-bid contract process.  These are precious funds that should be used to benefit children, rather than line the pockets of Joel Klein and Rupert Murdoch.

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